College is an opportunity for learning, yet so many conservatives go without studying serious conservative thought in class thanks to their school’s bias. To fully understand what makes conservatism tick, one must turn to writers and thinkers who have lived out and experienced the good of conservatism and understood why it works.
We polled the Lone Conservative team and gathered a list of books that we believe all young conservatives ought to read. By no means is this list exhaustive, nor should the omission of a book be particularly notable. In the future, we’ll probably put together more lists such as this.
The Closing of the American Mind – Allan Bloom (Amazon)
The Bible established my worldview. Tolkien’s novels crafted my prose. Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind taught me how to think. Its author was a quiet gay professor with a fondness for translating Plato and no intention of publishing. Eventually convinced by a friend, Bloom wrote it and found himself on the New York Time bestselling list. The chart topper is many things. It is a history of Western thought from Plato to Deconstructionism. It is a critique of Higher Education. It is an apologetic for the Western canon. Most importantly, it is an assault on moral and cultural relativism. As universities placed a greater emphasis on multiculturalism and progressive educational practices, they forced a philosophical assumption into the bedrock of their students thinking: there is no truth. Bloom watched as his students arrived to his class every year, proclaiming open minds, but more and more unable to seriously consider new ideas, because no idea could be true. Their ‘open’ mindedness had closed their minds to thoughtful consideration. Neither a conservative nor a liberal, Bloom argued not for free market policies or economic redistribution in his book, but rather that the university had lost its most important aspect: a commitment to reading, considering, and debating all great ideas. And this begins with reading great books. –Daniel Buck
Democracy in America – Alexis de Tocqueville (Amazon / Project Gutenberg)
Alexis de Tocqueville was a French political scientist and politician born to an aristocratic family in 1805. In 1831, he received permission from the July Monarchy to travel to America with the intentions of studying the prison system. Upon his arrival, he was received as a celebrity although he was still a young man in his late 20s. His feature book, Democracy in America, was published in 1835 and is an essential read for any millennial conservative. Democracy in America outlines why the American experiment with democracy has been so successful. Between American commitment to religion and to a federal democracy, Tocqueville details cultural and political successes in the American democracy. He also highlights challenges that America will face in its democracy, among which are the development of an aristocratic industrial class and the challenge of ending slavery. Democracy in America reveals that the true successes in America are built upon classical liberal values, from which America has strayed the past century. Tocqueville lays out a guideline to what made America great, a commitment to classical liberal values. –Daniel MacLane
Basic Economics – Thomas Sowell (Amazon)
While there are many excellent texts on economics – on both sides of the aisle – worth recommending, Sowell’s is perhaps the most insightful and valuable. Throughout his career, Sowell looked at the economic divides of the United States, taking racial and socioeconomic factors into consideration, and developed a worldview that balances the ideal reality of Adam Smith with the actuality of the modern-day era. His book is far from light reading – indeed, it is often used as a textbook itself – but covers economics in a way that few other treatises do.
The Conservative Mind – Russell Kirk (Amazon)
The Conservative Mind is a history of conservatism told through the pioneers of the movement. Russel Kirk compiles all the greatest hits of conservative powerhouses like John Adams, Alexis de Tocqueville, T. S. Eliot, and more. In this book Kirk develops key tenants of modern day conservatism, like the idea that property and freedom go hand in hand. If you have ever wanted to realize where your beliefs originated from, when conservative principles have been fought over and debated, or become a smarter conservative, then this book is for you. –Alec Sears
On Liberty – J.S. Mill (Amazon / Project Gutenberg)
John Stuart Mill was the father of utilitarianism and arguably one of the first feminists in western history. His book On Liberty took his metaphysical and philosophical ideals of utilitarianism and applied them to society to make a 170-page apologetic of individual liberty. To Mill, individual liberty is more than just a personal right or means to personal enjoyment, it is a societal necessity. When there exists a true diversity of ideas and lifestyles, mankind can observe, argue, and debate continually winnowing away all destructive lifestyles and fallacious beliefs. If the eradication of racism is the ideal, let it run free and get crushed in the free market of ideas. To the conservative millenial, this book will reinforce and justify their commitment to individual liberty. To the liberal millenial, it will show them that free market policies and small government is the best way to accomplish their goals of social justice and free expression. –Daniel Buck
God and Man at Yale – William F. Buckley, Jr. (Amazon)
Buckley’s work on academic freedom on the campus of Yale became one of the most powerful works of the modern conservative movement. The ideas he developed within the book and beyond helped him to become one of the most powerful conservative commentators of the late 20th century. In his book, Buckley describes the college’s desire to bring students together into a near-hivemind of liberal thinking with its promotion of cherry-picked liberal ideas, and organized war against religion. The Yale of the 1950s, Buckley argued, was far from the Yale at its founding – and the Yale of 2017 is certainly no better.
The Death of Expertise – Tom Nichols (Amazon)
The most recently-published book on the list, The Death of Expertise is a must-read in the era of 140 characters. In a modern society that offers infinitely-available information at the tip of one’s fingertips, the value of actual “experts” in society has waned, Nichols argues. People develop a false sense of security in their own knowledge and suppose that they know better than those who have the legitimate credentials to be an expert in their field. From academia, to the media, and beyond, Nichols looks at how “expertise” is something that no longer has the prestige it deserves. Read the full review and interview with the author.
The Fractured Republic – Yuval Levin (Amazon)
Modern-day American politics could be gently described as “polarized.” In The Fractured Republic, National Review writer Yuval Levin looks at the history behind this polarization, tracking how American society slowly came apart, particularly post-WWII, as Americans stopped looking forward to a bright future, and instead reminisced on how things used to be. It puts modern politics in its proper context, allowing a reader to better understand just why things are where they are today. Read the full review.
How to Read a Book – Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren (Amazon)
No, we’re not being facetious with this recommendation. How to Read a Book is an excellent look at looks at the art of reading itself, encouraging its readers to take a careful, logical analysis of what they read and what to take away from the text. The examples of works within the text also make for great further reading recommendations, as well.
To truly understand where conservative thought originates, one ought to begin at the source. The principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, “endowed by their Creator,” are the fundamental principles of conservative ideology, and their existence can be traced back to Scripture itself. Conservatism is, quite literally, a restoration of thinking and ideas that are tested and tried, and known to work, and these ideas go back to the Old Testament itself.